The health crisis, isolation and shorter working hours are sparking many new initiatives, especially in the business world. The 4-day working week debate has re-emerged and is proving its worth in various companies around the world. But how does it really work? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the 4-day working week, partly due to the success of the experiment that involved some of Iceland‘s population (1% of the workforce). Between 2015 and 2019, infact, more than 2,500 workers from different sectors (including schools, offices and hospitals) switched from 40 to 35 hours of work per week, while keeping their salary and benefits unchanged.

The result was so positive that it led Icelandic trade unions to renegotiate working patterns for about 86% of the state’s workforce.

So what is a 4-day week really like?

The 4-day week consists in working 4 days instead of 5, and benefitting from 3 days off. There are several solutions to set it up: keeping the same number of weekly hours but distributing them differently over the 4 days by extending the daily working time, or reducing the actual number of weekly hours full stop.

In any case, the transition to this new formula has to be gradual, and requires adaptation time and a lot of organisation on the employees’s part in order to produce the same amount of work in a different way.

Utopia or a possibility for the future? Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons.

Shorter working week: the pros

  • Productivity – The experiment in Iceland showed how reduced working hours led to workers being more efficient and quicker in carrying out their assigned tasks. Stanford University studied the same phenomenon and showed a correlation between work overload and reduced productivity. This is also confirmed by global trends: the most productive nations (Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands) have average work contracts of 27 hours per week.
  • Health and psychological wellbeing – A better work-life balance means less stress and more happiness for people: less absenteeism, fewer problems related to the worker’s physical health and more positivity in dealing with work-related issues.
  • Environmentally friendly – According to a report published in May 2021 by the 4 Day Week Campaign, reducing working days would reduce the carbon footprint of the whole of the UK by 21.3% in just one year. The reason is obvious: fewer workers have to commute to the office every day, or use electricity to run their PCs and business phones.
  • Reduced unemployment – For businesses that are open 24/7, the 4-day week would mean more recruitment, to cover all the shifts that are needed for operations.

4-day working week: the cons

  • Labour costs – Hiring more staff is obviously a cost for the company, especially if not incentivised by welfare policies.
  • Work overload – If companies do not integrate their staff, the only possible solution is to compress the same activities into a reduced number of available hours. A new rhythm, therefore, both at work and on a personal level. The result? Anxiety, stress and a high risk of burnout.
  • Customer dissatisfaction – Today’s world, especially for companies facing a global market, requires continuous availability, regardless of the time of day. Customer expectation undeniably clashes with a reduced working week, especially when interaction with a single contact person is required.

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